I secured the hand written note on the transparent dome with scotch tape. This was definitely not standard protocol, but after 20 years in the neonatal intensive care unit, I knew how to navigate the system.
"Please, Do Touch," the note stated in bright red letters.
The note was a call to action for nurses who would work in the unit over the next few days. I gazed down upon the tiny baby girl now sleeping within the contraption that fought to save her life and reached through the porthole to give her one final caress.
It was a rare occasion that nurses had to take on this duty with such intention. Most times, we had to tear family members away from their tiny infants in order to perform the medical tasks at hand. That was not the case for Little Princess. There were no visitors. There was no family. This beautiful baby girl was all but alone in the world. Her three-day-old chart offered no explanation about the circumstances of her mother.
With two consecutive days off ahead, this was normally a time to celebrate. Instead, I wondered how I could squeeze in a visit to the hospital amidst my chores and errands. I could drop in while Mandy was at ballet, I reasoned. It would be just enough time to hold Little Princess and gently touch her tiny arms and legs - just in case the other nurses missed the note.
I slowly removed my hand from within the incubator, hoping the release of my touch would not awaken her. Her tiny chest, and all the connected wires and needles, continued to rise and fall uninterrupted. I checked the monitors one final time, added notes to her chart and departed.
My family didn't seem to notice my mental absence at the dinner table that evening. I was glad to hear that Keith finished his essay and Mandy had made the cheerleading team. Hard as I tried, my thoughts could not stick to these conversations.
I could not help but wonder if Little Princes would ever sit at a dinner table surrounded by family, talking about homework and cheerleading. One thing seemed certain, there would be no stories shared about those who came to visit her in the hospital; no classic cock-eyed hospital photo to occupy the coveted first page in her childhood photo album.
As I drifted off to sleep that night, I prayed that whatever might come of Little Princess' life, she would never fully comprehend how alone she was in her first days of life.
"Ready to go?" I called out to Mandy the next morning.
"It's too early, mom," she returned.
"I need to run by the hospital while you're at your lesson," I explained, grabbing my purse, a journal and my camera. "Let's go!"
It was a ten minute drive to Mandy's ballet studio - a trip normally filled with lively conversation.
"It's another preemie, isn't it mom?"
"A little girl," I said with a small crack in my voice.
"Give her a hug for me when you get there," said Mandy, exiting the car.
I pulled into a stall in the hospital garage and opened the journal, carefully writing "Little Princess" on the inside front cover. I dated the first page and proceed to jot down some notes about how she brightened the NICU. I then made my way up to see her.
"What are you doing here?" asked Nurse Margaret as she tended to our Little Princess.
I aimed my camera at the pair -- "Say cheese!" I snapped about twenty photos on that day alone.
As I downloaded hundreds of pictures later that month, I marveled at the progress Little Princess had made. She was a fighter! And, good news was spreading through the hospital about a potential adoption family that would soon be visiting.
"Is that her?" asked Mandy pulling up a chair next to me as I downloaded the last set of photos. "She's so cute! She looks cross-eyed in this one photo" Mandy giggled.
"I know. That's my favorite!"
I printed out the photo and inserted it into the front page of a photo album I longed to give to Little Princess' new family, along with her journal.
The second photo was one of me reaching through the porthole of the incubator. And there, in the photo, was the note I had written not so long ago: Please, Do Touch.
I realized that Little Princess had done just that. Through her bravery and her will to survive, she had, indeed, touched me.
Sherrie is a believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, a mother and a freelance writer. She resides with her family on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, where she was born and raised.
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